Editors note: This column is written in response to an April 18 column on the subject of Syrian airstrikes.

In a response to my column on the air strike against the Syrian government, The Badger Herald’s Associate Opinion Editor Aly Niehans argued that President Donald Trump’s response to the horrid gas attacks has been “simply put, pathetic.”

Niehans makes the case that “Trump’s decisions regarding Syria shows his ridiculous ability to stay so out of touch with reality that he is simply unable, or unwilling, to accept that the conflict in Syria is a massive humanitarian crisis without being reminded by the occasional chemical attack.”

Anyone who has watched Trump knows he has never needed to be reminded of what has happened in Syria. In fact, previous statements over the topic indicate Trump has been aware of it. What has occurred, however, is a change of opinion over how to handle the Syrian crisis. It is obvious Trump considered differing opinions among his advisers on the chemical attack, and he decided it was time to retaliate.

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Unlike the Obama administration’s response to the Syrian Civil War, the new president’s response has been refreshing. The previous administration never enforced their red line to strike militarily if chemical attacks were used and instead tried diplomacy. That’s when Bashar al-Assad knew he was going to be handled with kid gloves. Since then, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said the negotiations Obama made to remove Assad’s chemical arsenal did not live up to expectations.

Obama’s weak response to the Syrian crisis was far worse than Trump’s and has led to thousands of unnecessary deaths and millions of refugees. Niehans’ description of the strike as “a slightly more advanced version of a pissing contest” ignores what has been achieved. Assad’s air force has lost a large percentage of aircraft that cannot be used in the civil war, meaning he will have to make do with launching less operations than he could.

The American responsibility of taking refugees has not disappeared. The executive order on the refugee admittance program is merely undergoing reform for 90 days before starting back up again to add protections to prevent terrorist entry. Once the suspension is over, refugees from those seven countries will be admitted again.

Niehans then argues, “it is high time that the notion that the U.S. is somehow responsible for policing the world is put to rest.” So what is the alternative if the U.S. does not intervene across the globe? Others will take our place and none of our allies even come close to being capable of replacing us.

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The countries that will take advantage of American withdrawal are China and Russia. The former has been run by a communist party that keeps a firm grip on power and represses political dissidents who criticize their government, threatening democracies in Asia. There’s a reason many Asian nations are allies of ours and that’s because China threatens their sovereignty.

Russia’s leader has formed his own oligarchy and gradually eliminated any freedoms that existed in the Russian Federation since the Cold War while assassinating those who threaten his power. He has invaded the territory of other countries and has supported Assad’s regime against rebel groups like the Free Syrian Army. I hoped Trump wouldn’t cozy up to Putin upon becoming president, and I’m happy to see he has challenged Russian aggression rather than assist it.

If we don’t stand up against human rights abuses and tyranny, then no one will. That’s why it must be the U.S.

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She further argues American values are “not values that should be spread to the rest of the world.” Yet, she seems to have forgotten what these values have created and defended. It has been more than 70 years since the end of World War II. Our two major enemies in the war, Germany and Japan, now have flourishing democracies and modern economies after American occupation.

We defended South Korea from collapse, and it is a democracy that takes the balance of power seriously by holding abusive politicians accountable. The barbaric dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, a regime that engaged in ethnic cleansing and religious persecution, has been replaced by another democracy. These don’t sound like the values of racism, sexism and religious fundamentalism that she paints America with. 

Niehans concludes “what will make America truly great again is understanding that its responsibility as a global leader is to provide aid to people in need and to work peacefully to resolve conflict.” Only adopting soft tactics like foreign aid and accepting refugees will never fix our world’s greatest problems. The time for more failed peace agreements and restraint is over. It is time to show genocidal maniacs that their actions will not go without consequence. The foreign policy that Niehans envisions is disastrously irresponsible.

John M. Graber ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in history and political science.